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Summer's must-have technical gadgets

Summer’s must-have technical gadgets — We uncover the season’s hottest electronic equipment

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The Walkman changed everything. The pocket-size stereo cassette player that Sony introduced in 1979 not only helped revitalize the music industry, it introduced the idea that great entertainment doesn’t have to stay indoors. Since then, manufacturers have been shrinking and unplugging every gadget in sight, from TVs to CD players to video games. With the new VCR/TV combinations, even video is hitting the road. Though summer vacation once meant roughing it without electronics, today loading up the car for a trip can involve a trunkful of audio and video equipment (not to mention tapes and discs). Entertainment to go is there at the touch of a button — the one labeled Play.

Slim Sounds An invention as sublime as the 11-year-old Walkman would not seem to have much room for improvement, but that never stopped Sony from ingeniously piling on the features while shrinking the dimensions. The new Sony WM-F702 Super Walkman ($280), an auto-reverse player scarcely bigger than the cassette it holds, has an AM/FM radio with 14-station memory and automatic channel scan, Dolby noise reduction, a neat little battery that recharges in 10 minutes, and — get this — a miniature remote control attached to the headphone wire.

Theater for One In the old days, traveling meant packing a lot of books. Then it was audiocassettes and a Walkman. But with the new portable video systems that allow you to watch tapes anywhere, flight bags may soon be filled with movies. Sony’s 8mm Video Walkman started the trend, but Panasonic’s PV-M429 A/V Pocket Watch ($1,399) plays the much more popular VHS cassettes. This sleek miniature briefcase weighs less than five pounds (without batteries), and flips open to reveal a VCR, a 4-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) color screen, and a speaker. The rechargeable battery pack lasts about two hours. This summer you can choose your own in-flight (or in-car) movie.

In camera People have been traveling with camcorders ever since the combination video camera/recorder was introduced more than five years ago. But the big, clunky recorders most tourists lug around have one big drawback: They make you look like a tourist. That problem has been solved with the miniaturized Sony CCD-TR5 Handycam ($1,500). Partly because it records on tiny 8mm videocassettes (about the size of a deck of cards), the Handycam is the first camcorder small enough to slip in a jacket pocket or purse. Available in either white or black, this two-pound camera makes videotaping as convenient as taking snapshots. For point-and-shooters, the Handycam offers automatic focus and exposure, a 6X zoom lens, good low-light performance, and a built-in microphone.

Disc-go Because portable stereo gear has permanently altered our habits, we do a lot of listening away from home. But that doesn’t mean we have to abandon audio quality. Audiophiles on the go can find the sonic standards they want in portable CD players, some of which are good enough to plug into home systems, too. Theehandsome Kenwood DPC-61 CD player ($249) has no exotic functions, but a wireless remote, AC adapter, car- stereo hookup, and a rechargeable battery make it suitable for almost any locale.